BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Quinlan and Television New Zealand Ltd - 2008-095

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
  • Sarah Quinlan
TV One

Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Breakfast – New York correspondent reported on Christie Brinkley’s divorce – said that her husband “masturbated to web cams” – allegedly in breach of good taste and decency and children’s interests

Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – contextual factors – not upheld

Standard 9 (children’s interests) – children unlikely to be watching Breakfast and not likely to be disturbed or alarmed – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


[1]   Breakfast was broadcast on TV One between 6.30am and 9am on 11 July 2008. Each week, the programme’s New York correspondent reported on the latest celebrity news from the United States. In the 11 July episode, the reporter discussed the recent divorce of Christie Brinkley, and recited issues Ms Brinkley had with her husband that had been read out in court, including that he had “masturbated to web cams”. Breakfast’s presenter responded “oh my god” and covered his ears.


[2]   Sarah Quinlan made a formal complaint to Television New Zealand Ltd, the broadcaster, arguing that the use of the words “masturbating [sic] to web cam” breached standards of good taste and decency. She considered that the phrase was “simply unnecessary”, and that the broadcaster should have had regard to the fact that children may have been watching at that time of the day.


[3]   Standards 1 and 9 of the Free-to-Air Television Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to the determination of this complaint. They provide:

Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency

In the preparation and presentation of programmes, broadcasters are responsible for maintaining standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

Standard 9 Children’s Interests

During children’s normally accepted viewing times (see Appendix 1), broadcasters are required, in the preparation and presentation of programmes, to consider the interests of child viewers.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[4]   TVNZ contended that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the broadcast material must be unacceptable to a significant number of viewers in the context in which it was shown, including the time of broadcast, the programme’s target audience, its classification, and the use of warnings.

[5]   TVNZ maintained that the reporter’s comments were included to illustrate the point that, throughout the course of the court case to decide how the couple’s $80 million worth of property would be divided, some unpleasant facts had emerged about Ms Brinkley’s husband. The broadcaster considered that the comments, used in that context, were acceptable and did not go beyond current norms of good taste and decency.

[6]   The broadcaster also argued that there was considerable audience expectation that the presenters and reporters of Breakfast will “enter into banter together as issues arise in the programme”. The familiarity viewers have with this style and the presenters’ frequent banter ensured that the comment would not have offended a significant number of viewers, TVNZ said.

[7]   The broadcaster concluded that the comment would not have offended a significant number of viewers and declined to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

Referral to the Authority

[8]   Dissatisfied with TVNZ’s response, Ms Quinlan referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. She noted that TVNZ had not addressed her complaint under Standard 9.

[9]   Ms Quinlan objected to TVNZ’s argument that the comment was “in context to the story”. This, she said, implied that anything would be acceptable if it was linked to the story being reported, regardless of the time of broadcast. She considered that TVNZ had similarly implied that any comment would be acceptable if it contributed to “banter” between Breakfast’s presenters.

[10]   The complainant also questioned how TVNZ knew that the comment “would not have offended a significant number of viewers”. She said she had spoken to many women and mothers who all agreed with her that the comment was inappropriate for broadcast at a time when children were likely to be watching, and believed that “many parents would find it offensive, given the timeslot”. She suggested that “TVNZ could have retained the banter and the context by saying, for example, ‘Christie Brinkley alleges that her husband indulged in some dodgy behaviour that is unfit for discussion on breakfast news...”

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[11]   TVNZ addressed Ms Quinlan’s complaint that Standard 9 had been breached. It noted that Breakfast was a scheduled current affairs programme targeted at an adult audience, and therefore children were unlikely to be watching it without an adult present. The broadcaster argued that the report was not explicit and did not include any coarse language. It said:

Within the context of reporting on an acrimonious celebrity divorce settlement in a programme aimed at an adult audience, the Committee finds it unlikely that the comment on Breakfast would have alarmed or disturbed child viewers.

[12]   TVNZ concluded that the comment was appropriate in the context of a news segment during Breakfast, and that the broadcaster had adequately considered the interests of child viewers. It declined to uphold the Standard 9 complaint.

Authority's Determination

[13]   The members of the Authority have viewed a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Standard 1 (good taste and decency)

[14]   When the Authority considers a complaint that alleges a breach of good taste and decency, it is required to take in to account the context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include:

  • Breakfast was rated G (General)
  • the programme was broadcast between 6.30am and 9am
  • the programme had an adult target audience
  • expectations of regular viewers.

[15]   The Authority agrees with the broadcaster that the reporter’s comment was acceptable in the context of a regular celebrity news segment, which, in this episode, reported on Ms Brinkley’s fourth divorce. Aside from simply reporting some details of the divorce case, the comment was an example of the “banter” frequently engaged in by the Breakfast presenters that its viewers have come to expect, and that is intended to be humorous rather than offensive.

[16]   Accordingly, the Authority finds that the comment did not breach standards of good taste and decency. It declines to uphold the Standard 1 complaint.

Standard 9 (children’s interests)

[17]   Standard 9 requires broadcasters to consider the interests of child viewers during their normally accepted viewing times. While the Breakfast segment was broadcast before school when children could have been watching, the Authority considers that the programme was aimed at adults rather than children, and was not the sort of programme that children would typically be interested in. The segment was light-hearted and unlikely to “disturb or alarm” child viewers (guideline 9a), and it is possible that the comment complained about would have gone over the heads of most young children that were watching.

[18]   One member (Tapu Misa) considers that the comment was borderline for a G-rated programme during children's normal viewing times. In Ms Misa’s view, the sexual reference should have been more discreet to reflect the time of day and the G classification of Breakfast. However, because the comment was brief and part of a live news report, Ms Misa would not uphold the complaint.

[19]   For these reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the broadcast breached Standard 9.


For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority


Joanne Morris
25 November 2008


The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1.           Sarah Quinlan’s formal complaint – 16 July 2008
2.          TVNZ’s response to the complaint – 12 August 2008
3.          Ms Quinlan’s referral to the Authority – 21 August 2008
4.          TVNZ’s response to the Authority – 26 September 2008